Rights, Facts, Comments and Kibble

Every now and then I get a comment that requires so much time and research to respond to that I decide, what the hell, I might as well write a post. Well, folks, the “Chao-Chou’s Dog Has Puppies” post attracted such comments, beginning with #72:

I could only read the post and about 1/3rd of the comments before getting depressed at the lack of liberal understanding in regards to the pro-life position. Yes, the exact point that a fertilized egg becomes “Fred” is ambiguous, and the morality of destroying that fertilized egg is hazy, and that’s why we had a large myriad of nuanced laws dealing with different aspects of abortion in different parts of the country before Roe v. Wade came along and wiped all of them out and said, in effect, that as long as the baby’s head hasn’t been exposed to air, then vacuuming his or her brains out is fair game. This shouldn’t be an either/or situation, where you either have complete restriction on abortion or no real restrictions at all. Let the states decide.

I answered this comment (#73) but I want to add a bit to the answer. In particular, I want to address the “let the states decide” nonsense.

In the United States, we have these things called “rights” that all levels of government (since the 14th Amendment, anyway) must respect. For example, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. This means Alabama can’t reinstate slavery even if 100 percent of the state legislature votes for it. And the 4th Amendment protects a “right of the people to be secure in their persons,” meaning state governments cannot dictate to a citizen (say, a pregnant woman) what medical procedures she may or may not have (for example, abortion or childbirth) without some kind of court order. The legislature cannot circumvent the 4th by writing a law that says the state can search and seize personal property whenever it wants to, for example. Such matters are off limits no matter how big a majority of the voters might want such laws passed.

I have already posted arguments (here, for example) why I think the Constitution does protect a right of privacy that includes the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion. I am not going to repeat those arguments now. If you want more arguments, head on over to Lawyers, Guns & Money. Scott Lemieux of L, G & M (whom I have met; in person he’s so intensely bright he makes me feel dim) has accumulated a substantial opus of Roe v. Wade posts. See, for example, “Roe Was Right (Part I)” and “Roe Was Right (Part II)“. If you enjoy those, you might also like “Roe Was Right (Part III).”

Now, as for the “myriad of [sic] nuanced laws” about abortion that allegedly graced the states before Roe, I refer you to this Alan Guttmacher report, “Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue?” In a nutshell, the “nuance” was as follows: In 33 states, abortion was illegal in all circumstances. In 13 states, various provisions had been made for medical necessity. It had been legalized in 4 states.

As I wrote in my comments, “nuanced, my ass.”

As for “This shouldn’t be an either/or situation, where you either have complete restriction on abortion or no real restrictions at all,” in fact Roe v. Wade provides for a number of restrictions, including a complete ban on elective post-viability abortions.

Now, also in my response to the post above, I provided a link to this post, which refers to the Alan Guttmacher report linked above, which says,

Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. One analysis, extrapolating from data from North Carolina, concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967.

(Now, the Guttmacher Institute is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, which I realize to some people is a partisan organization. However, both the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control use Guttmacher data in their reports and consider it to be as reliable as anybody else’s data.)

The commenter responded,

I did some googling, and it seems like your stats in the other post are way off. “1.2 million illegal abortions” a year before Roe v. Wade is at the extreme high-end of the possible estimates, and it includes miscarriages. I found an abstract for a paper called “An objective model for estimating criminal abortions and its implications for public policy” here:


. . . and, from what I can gather, it seems like a scholarly work that estimates that there were between “a low of 39,000 [illegal abortions] in 1950 to a high of 210,000 in 1961, or an average of 98,000 a year” and that, after Roe v. Wade, the total number of abortions increased six to eleven times, and that, strangely enough, the number of illegal abortions only dipped a little bit.

The “scholarly work” is an abstract of a paper written in 1981 by people I’ve never heard of. Without seeing the entire work I have no idea where they got their numbers, but I suspect they counted only illegal abortions that were actually documented as such at the time they were performed. Meaning, they were only counting a tiny part of the actual abortions going on at the time.

[Update: Alert reader Jeffrey Rowland discovered the “scholarly work” was sponsored by “Americans United for Life.” So much for that.]

Any number anyone comes up with is an estimate. But when you consider that that in 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions — just one hospital, and no doubt those were only a fraction of the women who aborted in the area served by the hospital — then a “high” of 210,000 abortions nationwide seems a tad low. (Women in more affluent neighborhoods got safer abortions and were less likely to turn up in hospital emergency rooms.)

As for, “strangely enough, the number of illegal abortions only dipped a little bit” — strangely enough, after Roe, the number of women who turned up in emergency rooms with complications from back-alley abortions just about stopped. And which abortions were “illegal” after Roe, pray tell? I think someone is confused.

The total number of abortions per year did go up after Roe v. Wade (although not “six to eleven times”). This is a phenomenon that seems to nearly always happen when abortions are legalized; the rate goes up for a time, and then settles back down again in a few years. (See “Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide [PDF] Report on unplanned pregnancy and abortion around the world” [Alan Guttmacher, June 1999] pp.28-29.) This happened in the U.S.; rates began to come down around 1990 and declined steadily through the 1990s.

The fact remains that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortion. We see this in nations throughout the world; there is no correlation between abortion law and abortion rate. I wrote about this at length here. And the fact remains that where abortion is illegal women will, in desperation, abort themselves or submit to back-alley abortions that are enormously dangerous. And some of them will suffer permanent injury. And some of them will die.

Finally, we get this brilliant argument:

Honestly, I have more animosity towards Roe v. Wade than I do towards abortion. And my animosity stems from the fact that it was an authoritarian, anti-democratic decision that has polarized this country in a terrible way.

Look at it this way — Christians probably think abortion and prostitution are about equally bad. I mean, one of the ten commandments is about adultery. However, do you see hundreds of thousands of people marching to Nevada every year to protest legalized prostitution? No. I posit that the reason why is that prostitution hasn’t been forced on the entire country, and that the only areas that have legalized it are those communities that are okay with it.

That’s exactly what people said about Brown v. Board of Education, you know. Are you old enough to remember the years in which school desegregation had the whole nation up in arms? I am. I believe it was a worse conflagration than what was caused by Roe. (See also “The Long Tentacles of Conservative Revisionism” by Scott Lemieux.) By your logic, we should have maintained Jim Crow laws because declaring them unconstitutional got so many people riled up (and hollering about “states’ rights”).

Sometimes liberty and justice get messy. Deal with it.

Update: See also August J. Pollak.

34 thoughts on “Rights, Facts, Comments and Kibble

  1. In America, at least one in seven live in poverty (probably one in five), tens of millions of children lack proper healthcare, and most American children will never have a real shot at higher education. Every minute, world wide, thousands of innocent children die of hunger. Tens of thousand of innocent Iraqi children have dbeen killed or maimed since and because of the invasion. Where’s the moral outrage from those so opposed to choice?

  2. I went back and read Keith’s comments to your Saturday post. He’s a couple days late and a couple bricks short, if you ask me.

    He keeps harping on the “forcing” of this and that on the nation, the states, whomever. Who is being forced to have abortions by any branch or level of government in the United States? And if this is the problem, then why is Keith trying to force his personal, anti-abortion views on every American citizen capable of getting pregnant, via dint of law?

    Your advice is sound, maha. Keith should re-read Roe, read Brown, read Griswold. Those decisions are what happens when the law STOPS forcing citizens to live by consciences that are not their own. And while he’s at it, if Keith wants to see what it really does look like when the Supreme Court screws up, he should read the Dred Scott decision.

  3. The day that pro-lifers carry around graphic pictures and/or offer descriptions of the bodies of innocent Iraqi men, women and children killed by policies of the warmongrel Bush is the day I will take seriously their claims about wanting to protect life.

  4. Really, in a free society the burden of proof should be on the people who want a restrictive law, not on those who don’t.

  5. The right wingers talk about the original intent of the Framers, and argue that any changes needed to the Constitution are provided for by the amendment process. As a result, there is no need for judges to interpret law in light of new knowledge and changes in cultural mores.

    But in fact, that hasn’t always worked. We have had at least one time when the amendment process didn’t work, when social changes and new knowledge and mores made change necessary.

    The Civil War resulted.

    We had outgrown slavery (definitely within the Framers’ intent), the amendment process didn’t work, and the judicial process wasn’t doing much better.

  6. And speaking of original intent, abortion was legal (to about the mid-point in pregnandy) in all the states when the Constitution was ratified, and the original authors didn’t bother to address it.

  7. From comment #90, Chao- Chou’s dog.

    ” Our lives don’t belong to us unless our bodies belong to us.”

    A powerful statement. It would be pertinent to understanding many volatile social issues…allowing people sovereignty of their own being and their own bodies.

  8. Keith is an utter wanker. Abortion hasn’t been forced on any part of the country, let alone the entire country! This is typical religious-right unthinking: they whine about their “rights” (to treat women as incubators) being violated if the government upholds anyone else’s rights.

    Personally, I’m pro-life – I think living, breathing women are more important than zygotes.

  9. Another great discussion, Maha,THANK YOU for having it.

    I want to mention something ,, to “keith”,and to everyone.We discuss this as adults, with differing points of view, one side approaches the subject from the starting point of their faith, which has always made me ask the question ..Why do you think man can place children in homes better then sending them back to your God and letting Him do it?Oh ye of little faith…..
    I have always wondered why a group who claims such faith , has so little…Do they really believe an abortion could stop a person from being if they have so much faith?
    Then we have the more reasoned logic of the affects on /to women .. and I can’t thank Maha enough for reminding us all about the realities we WILL face , sadly.
    But I feel the most important side to this has been forgotten.
    I think we are way past due to discuss the reality that the pro life side will be inflicting on these innocent children that they feel MUST exist.
    I don’t know the number of un-wanted, neglected, homeless, hungry, unisured, abused children in this country NOW, but if you can count them on one hand it is too damn many. No one is racing to save them, they are on their own.As long as these kids are born the fetus people are sure they have done their job(to help reserve themselves a place in heaven),I assume they believe the rest of the work of raising those kids just happens by magic.
    We have kids living in foster homes, some for their whole lives and we have no solution to deal with their needs, maybe we should solve just THAT problem before we demand thousands more be born.We don’t have a system set up to deal with just the financial needs of the kids our society has now, how are we going to pay for this? Are we planning to turn the federal government into a orphanage? Or is that the next burden we plan to place on states?Hope you like paying taxes folks.
    How cruel are these people, insisting unwanted kids be born? Have they no heart for what it is like to spend life unwanted with no family?The people that want control of making these choices could not be more unkind if they tried.

  10. Okay, just read your post, and a couple of thoughts:

    1. Yes, we have rights that can’t be retracted. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. Can’t you at least admit that the anti-abortion side is actually fighting *for* the rights of a certain group? Maybe they’re wrong in their assessment of who deserves rights, but at least give them the credit for that.

    2. Like I said in another post, the pre-Roe v. Wade laws were nuanced compared to today. Likely they would have evolved with the culture and would have gotten more and more liberal as the years went on. Representative government and all that. Also, I was careful not to say that Roe v. Wade made all abortion legal. I said that it made, *in effect*, all abortion legal (coupled with Doe vs. Bolton.) Yes, the language of Roe does put in restrictions, but D vs. B defines those restrictions so narrowly as to make them nonexistant.

    3. My statistics, admittedly, are not easy to defend, since I can’t seem to find the paper. I’ll see if I can find them and get back to you on that. I mostly cited that source because a number of other people who had read the paper found it compelling.

    More tomorrow, I have to go to bed.

  11. Under English common law, abortion was a misdemeanor only after quickening.

    Before quickening, procuring an abortion was a lesser felony that could be defended by proving the woman was not pregnant.


    What I’d like to see is a legal brief which takes these facts into consideration and still argues that the Framers intended to prohibit abortion.

    It seems obvious that the cultural mindset at the time was not only that first trimester abortions were okay, but that abortions after quickening, while criminal, were merely misdemeanors.

    Also, compare this with the penalty proposed in the South Dakota Statute (four years?). You don’t get more than a year for a misdemeanor, and to get that you have to really piss a judge off.

    In other words, South Dakota is proposing a penalty which greatly exceeds the penalty for abortion when our Constitution was written. No strict construction there.

  12. Can’t you at least admit that the anti-abortion side is actually fighting *for* the rights of a certain group?

    No. I realize that “right-to-lifers” enjoy the conceit that they are fighting for rights, but they are deluding themselves.

    First, since an embryo/fetus is in no way a free agent, they cannot actually exercise rights. (I’m thinking of the Mork and Mindy episode in which Mork tried to “liberate” an egg. I guess this is showing my age.) Second, unlike other “oppressed” groups, extending “rights” to the product of pregnancy requires canceling out the rights of the adult human being who is its mother, reducing her status to that of a brood animal or some kind of major appliance. Finally, whether an embryo/fetus even exists as a distinct individual is a purely metaphysical question; it can be argued either way. Which is a large part of my point n the Chau-Chou’s Dog post.

    In point of fact, nearly always when you push a hard-core right-to-lifer to the wall, what comes out is a raging compulsion to control women and punish them for their sexuality. I don’t know if that applies to you, but it sure as hell applies to most anti-abortion rights activists.

    Like I said in another post, the pre-Roe v. Wade laws were nuanced compared to today.

    You have a weird idea of what the word “nuanced” means.

    Likely they would have evolved with the culture and would have gotten more and more liberal as the years went on. Representative government and all that.

    Likely the southern states eventually would have abolished slavery without the Civil War and 13th Amendment, but a couple more generations of human beings would have lived their lives as slaves before that happened.

    But, like the Civil War, and like Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade happened. There’s a school of thought among some progressives that abolishing Roe actually would help the abortion rights cause. In the long run that may be true, but in the short run there would be terrible suffering and disruption of many lives as a result, so I don’t support that.

    My statistics, admittedly, are not easy to defend, since I can’t seem to find the paper.

    Your “statistics” are bogus on their face and an obvious pile of crap, as I believe I demonstrated. Your faith in them just reveals you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    Now, I have to say that I don’t normally allow commenters to eat up my time like this, but in your case I found the exercise useful — arging with the opposition can sharpen one’s own arguments. Not that you’ve come up with any arguments that I haven’t heard 10,000 times already, but it’s been awhile since I’ve actually engaged in an argument with an anti-abortion rights type.

    However, since you obviously have nothing left but repeating the same old nonsense you started out with, the argument is now closed. I don’t have any more time for this.

  13. My reply didn’t show up. I’ll try again. Maha, if this is a double post, please feel free to delete it. Thanks.


    “Your “statistics” are bogus on their face and an obvious pile of crap, as I believe I demonstrated. Your faith in them just reveals you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”

    Well, you didn’t really demonstrate it, you just extrapolated from one hospital, said you’d never heard of the authors of the paper I cited, and incorrectly guessed about the source of the numbers. But, getting past that, let’s abandon my statistics and use yours. Let’s say that, before Roe v. Wade, there were between 200,000 and 1.2 million abortions a year. Currently there are around 1.2 million abortions per year (and the average since Roe v. Wade is 1.4 million per year.)

    The U.S. population back then was 211 million people. Now there are around 300 million, rounding upwards. That’s an increase of about 30%. So, if there were 200,000 illegal abortions pre-Roe, that means there would be, without Roe, about 285,000 abortions now. If the 1.2 million figure is correct, that means there would currently be 1.7 million abortions. The average between the two pre-Roe figures would work out to around 1 million abortions today. So, that means that, using your own figures, Roe most likely did increase the overall number of abortions, especially if you count in the large increase immediately after Roe was decided. In fact, your premise would be correct only if there were a little over 1 million abortions or more per year pre-Roe, which is on the very high end of your estimates.

    Also, I don’t know about the other people here, but I don’t find the evidence regarding Latin America to be very compelling. Our cultures, governments, education levels, wealth levels, etc., are all vastly different from them, as they are to Europe as well. I’m reading some of your other posts and links regarding this, though, so I’ll get back to it.

    Lastly, my comment about prostitution vs. abortion. Your argument would be much more convincing if you could demonstrate that my argument is false, instead of merely comparing it to other arguments that have been wrongly made in the past. The fact is, Christians aren’t marching in the hundreds of thousands to Nevada to protest prostitution, even though most Christians would consider prostitution to be at least as bad as abortion. I’m curious as to what your take is on this. I’m guessing you think it has something to do with us anti-abortionists wanting to secretly oppress women or something.

  14. Keith, take a hint, dear. We’re done. I’ve answered all your comments. You haven’t answered several of mine, but no matter. We’re done. I win.

    I’ll leave up this comment just in case anyone wants to take on your math. I’m seeing some holes in your logic, but as the “regulars” here know, math isn’t my strong point.

    PS — all of your “new” comments or those you alleged I haven’t answered are addressed in the documentation I’ve linked to, somewhere. I suggest you educate yourself and read it.

  15. What comments of yours would you like me to address?

    You could start with why you think abortion isn’t protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, but don’t post here. Go argue with Scott Lemieux about it.

  16. Comment no 11 by Keith

    Keith, no one needs to fight for anti-abortion rights. They have a right to not have an abortion. What they don’t have is a right to impose their beliefs upon others.

    If a ‘WOMAN” doesn’t want an abortion, so be it, let her give birth.

    If a “WOMAN” wants an abortion, she should be able to get one per Federal law.

    I was surprised to read the other day that you had to ask your wife her opinion on an issue while you were blogging. It sounds like you don’t know your wife very well!

    I think you have WAY too much time on your hands.

  17. Self labelled libertarians and those who cry out for states rights and federalism, is it that they think we don’t know the implications of these terms or is it they don’t, or is it the both?

  18. Funny that “maha” states that the “debate” is over and blocks “Keith” from posting. Is this a debate or were his comments hard to combat?

  19. Keith’s comments were easy to combat, but he kept repeating them anyway. Anyone who can read and think, can see that right away. Anyone who can’t, shouldn’t comment and embarrass themselves.

  20. most christians believe prostitution at least as bad as abortion .
    Keith said.
    That speaks for itself.

    It is all about sex and not about life. The life factor is the pretense.

    Pro choice people need to stay on message, it is not about life, it is all about sex.

  21. One more factor, I believe many men on the so-called pro-life side hate women. Sex and violence are closely related, why is that?

  22. What is the advantage of the states deciding? I do think that some issues are better decided by local government so as to account for varying populations and community needs — what’s good for New York City may not work in rural Idaho — but it doesn’t seem like this is a logical case for invoking states rights unless you want to argue that different communities have different values, but that seems to me to be a poor calculus for deciding policy, particularly since some objections to reproductive rights are motivated by religion. (Not that there’s anything wrong with religion, just that it has no business dictating policy.) The only thing I can think of is that anti-choicers know some states would ban abortion five minutes after Roe was overturned.

    And there’s nothing nuanced about the new South Dakota abortion ban. The only exception is if the mother’s life is at stake. And I read that it’s likely rapists could sue for child custody.

    And, really, come on. It’s not about babies. I think it’s been substantially proven that banning abortion wouldn’t decrease the number of abortions, and there’s empirical evidence to support that the outcome would be the same in the US. (I wish I could find the article I read last week about what women were doing to themselves during abortion bans in the past. It made me a little nauseous, maybe we should pass it on to Keith. The most heartbreaking thing in the article was a contemporary story about a teenager in Texas who called a clinic to make an appointment, but she was at 16 weeks, which is a week later than abortions are allowed by Texas law. So the girl told the clinic she’d find a way to get rid of the baby anyhow. And that’s today, when abortion is legal.) And, if this is the case, why ban it when there are more effective methods of decreasing the number of abortions, like comprehensive sex ed and making contraceptives easily available?

  23. WHEW! Bleepheads like #21 notwithstanding, I really do have to put an end to these “debates” sooner or later before they eat my life. I’ve got other things to do beside answering the same guy’s same questions fifty different ways.

  24. BTW, on his own blog Keith is whining that I’m a hypocrite because I didn’t give him an adequate chance to dispute my arguments before I put him in the twit filter. LOL! Some people don’t appreciate favors.

    No permalinks that I can find; you have to scroll down to ” Thank Goodness Women Can Count On Pink.”

  25. wow ,, I WAS ashamed of my blog,, until I saw “keiths”.. thanks Maha,, I feel much better now.

  26. Look at it this way — Christians probably think abortion and prostitution are about equally bad.

    This kind of nonsense really makes me angry.

    Force Birth is not the Christian position.

    Special Creation is not the Christian position.

    Prayer in Public Schools is not the Christian position.

    In these cases and others, we have a relatively small but politically influential gang of enthusiasts hijacking the prestige of Christianity to force their heretical beliefs upon everyone else.

    As a devout Christian, I despise these people and their evil works.

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